Raritan Valley Community College has become the first community college ever to sign an environmental stewardship agreement with the federal EPA, in connection with the school’s self-contained power plant and its commitment to reduce its carbon footprint.

School spokeswoman Janet Thompson says that the agreement is “a living agreement,” meaning that it outlines a commitment to everyday efforts to conserve resources and reduce waste.

According to the EPA, recognition as an environmental steward requires continuous improvement on environmental policies in line with the agency’s policies, practices, and specifications for efficiency. As part of the agreement the school must engage in Energy Star building and planting procedures to reduce energy waste, expanded recycling, reduction in diesel emissions, and increased water efficiency.

The agreement also means that RVCC must remain up to date with EPA regulations and guidelines, increase the involvement and recognition of the school’s stakeholders in sustainability programs, and partner with area governments on environmental initiatives.

The college’s recognition for its environmental friendliness was bolstered by the opening of its co-generator power plant last summer. In August RVCC unveiled its $14.5 million power plant that provides heat and power to the North Branch campus. Built with the help of a $1 million incentive grant from the state Board of Public Utilities — and $13.5 million from the school itself — the plant generates 1.4 megawatts of electricity. This power couples with an absorption unit that converts exhaust gases from the engines to 320 tons of cooling or hot water — enough to bypass the school’s conventional boilers. The plant provides as much as 85 percent of the campus’ power and is estimated to save the school $400,000 a year.

In addition to the power plant, RVCC has introduced several small initiatives around the campus, such as supplying more recycling containers, installing more energy-efficient lights and occupancy sensors in classrooms, recycling kitchen waste into compost, and planting sustainable vegetation along the steps outside the science building. The school also has installed solar-powered scoreboards and traffic signs, as well as a heating system in the science building that uses waste heat from exhaust fans to heat fresh air through the vents.

RVCC president Casey Crabill credits the school’s Social Justice Club, the Raritan Environmental Action League, and RVCC Cares with shepherding the college through the agreement process and with maintaining its focus on increased environmental friendliness. In addition to the EPA’s conditions, Crabill says, students have led the drive to eliminate plastic trays and Styrofoam cups in the dining hall, plus oversee clean-up days and earth Day projects around the campus.

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